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Schumer Says Amendment Would Increase Funding To Fight Lyme Disease

Photo by Scott Bauer (USDA ARS)

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says his amendment to boost funding to combat Lyme disease is a victory for upstate New York. The Democrat says it would be the first such increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in five years.

Schumer says his amendment that passed in the Senate will become part of the Health and Human Services Appropriations bill.

“I fought for more money and it’s the first time we’ve had a breakthrough,” Schumer says. “There are going to be significant more dollars to fight Lyme disease.”

He says the legislation would increase Lyme disease funding from fiscal year 2018’s level of $10.7 million to $12 million for fiscal year 2019. Schumer vows to shepherd the funding through Congress and onto the president’s desk. Jill Auerbach chairs the Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association. She is thankful for the funding proposal, but says more is needed.

“It’s a spit in the bucket,” says Auerbach. “If you were to compare what’s spent on some of the other infectious diseases as compared to what’s spent on Lyme and tick-borne disease and the numbers of people that are affected, I mean, it’s just, it’s appalling.”

Auerbach is also a member of the Dutchess County Legislature Tick Task Force. Dutchess has long been considered the epicenter of Lyme disease.

“Tick disease has been spreading like wildfire, and it’s been so underfunded. People need to be protected, and our government has not done enough to do that,” says Auerbach. “We desperately need appropriations for Lyme disease research and, in particular, tick research to stop the scourge of these ever increasing and spreading ticks.”

She points to the longhorned tick, which was found for the first time in New York earlier this summer, in Westchester County, as an example of the compounding problem. Schumer says he met with CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield earlier this year, and explained the need to address Lyme disease in New York. Schumer says Redfield committed to working on it. Schumer says there are a number of approaches to fighting the tick-borne diseases, including education.

“I actually was bitten by a Lyme disease tick. I could have had it, but I saw that night on my shin —  I was inspecting dams in Ulster County — and I saw this telltale bullseye rash on my skin, saw a little black thing, picked it up, put it in a bag, I knew what to do, went to the doctor,” Schumer says. “And there’s a simple antibiotic they can give you for 10 days and it wipes it out, if they catch it early. But, if people aren’t educated, they won’t know. And after two weeks it’s in your system and very hard to resist.”

And, he says:

“We need a test. So many people get tested and there are false positives and false negatives. It wouldn’t cost that much, but our legislation will increase money to get a test done,” Schumer says. “And third, there can be a cure like we cure many other diseases like Lyme disease.”

Again, Auerbach:

“If we don’t get funding, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but our children and their children are really going to pay the consequences,” Auerbach says.

Schumer says the funding increase would be used to target vector-borne pathogens which cause diseases in humans. He says the additional money would help officials understand when, where, and how people become exposed to vector-borne pathogens, as well as help prevent exposure to vector-borne pathogens and mitigate potential consequences of infection. Additionally, the funding would be used to implement vector-borne disease diagnostics, surveillance, control and prevention programs.

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